tv Charlie Rose WHUT September 21, 2009 11:00pm-12:00am EDT
>> rose: welcome to the broadcast. what to do about afghanistan, what's the strategy. all washington is talking about a story by bob woodward about general mcchrystal's assessment which hank linked to the paper. we'll talk to rajiv chandrasekaran and his analysis of the story. >> there's a lot of consternation here on the part of the military saying, you know, you've had this assessment now for many days, why aren't there more meetings on this? why aren't you guys focusing in on bearing down on this? we're fighting a war out there and we need washington to be able to multitask. now, admittedly, health care is
the top priority. the administration wants a bill out of congress soon. but there is frustration, palpable frustration on the part of the military, both at the pentagon and out in the field in afghanistan. >> rose: also this evening, an analysis of iran by haleh esfandiari. you may remember her, she the scholar from washington who went to visit her 93-year-old mother in tehran and was arrested. >> had washington not allocated that money and had washington engaged iran, this would not have happened to me and today we wouldn't have seen other iranian-american and americans sitting in jail. i really think there was this misunderstanding and lack of exchange between the two countries. >> rose: one program note. our conversation with valley nasser will be seen at another date. tonight we look at afghanistan
u.s. mission in afghanistan. in an unclassified version of the report that the "washington post" got, the top u.s. commando warns that the mission will likely result in failure unless troops are increased within the year. in stark language, he called coalition forces "poorly configured and inexperienced in local languages and culture." he proposed a robust counterinsurgency strategy that emphasizes protecting afghan civilians and building up the afghan government and the army. president obama is currently reviewing the report and other approaches to afghanistan, appearing on the sunday talk shows this weekend, he expressed new reservations about sending more troops before there was a strategy. >> if supporting the afghan national government and building capacity for their army and securing certain provinces advances that strategy, then we'll move forward. but if it doesn't, then i'm not interested in just being in afghanistan for the sake of being in afghanistan or saving
face or in some way sending a message that america is here for the duration. i think it's important that we match strategy to resources. i am now going to take all this information and we're going to test whatever resources we have against our strategy, which is if by sending young men and women into harm's way we are defeating al qaeda and that can be shown to a skeptical audience; namely, me, somebody who's always asking hard questions about deploying troops then we will do what's required to keep the american people safe. >> so no final decision. i just have one last question... >> well, the only thing i want to say, though, is that what we... i just want to make sure that everybody understands that you don't make decisions about resources before you have the strategy right. >> rose: joining us from washington now, rajiv chandrasekaran of the "washington post."
he co-authored a piece today about how the white house is rethinking the way forward in afghanistan and i'm especially pleased to have him on this show. here is the "washington post" with a picture of general mcchrystal and the headline "more forces or mission failure, top u.s. commander from afghan war calls the next 12 month december iceive." written by bob woodward. here is "changes have obama rethinking war strategy." paragraph of bob woodward's story. "top u.s. and nato commander in afghanistan warns in an urgent confidential assess. of the war that he needs more forces within the next year and bluntly states that without them the eight-year conflict will likely result in failure" according to a copy of the 66-page document obtained by the "washington post." so rajiv, thank you for coming, first of all. >> good evening, charlie. >> rose: tell me what's going on with the obama administration in afghanistan. >> well what the administration is now doing is it's evaluating
mcchrystal's assessment, but it's just one of many inputs that they are using to figure out the way forward, according to some senior officials that we talked to over the weekend. what they're looking at is whether mcchrystal's call for a comprehensive counterinsurgency strategy that would involve more resources-- and that means more american troops-- is really the way the obama white house wants to go, or whether this is now a moment where they fundamentally redraw their strategy and say "actually, to meet our objective of dismantling and defeating al qaeda in afghanistan, essential play that means is preventing al qaeda operatives from returning to afghanistan and setting up bases of operation there." whether the mission needs to be narrowd from a broader nation building exercise to one that is more focused on counterterrorism
and one that could be done with fewer troops, perhaps more aerial drones and that sort of thing and less of what mcchrystal is calling for. and this, charlie is a pretty significant shift in policy. those statements that you played from the president from his appearances on the sunday talk shows are in some ways to people in the military, to people who work closely with mcchrystal very startling. because they were operating under the assumption that the strategy was settled. if you'll recall back in march, the white house promulgate add brand new afghanistan/pakistan strategy that was a product of weeks of work in which it said that to achieve the goal of defeating al qaeda in afghanistan and pakistan, one of the key things that the united states needs to do is have an integrated civilian military counterinsurgency strategy. so that's what general mcchrystal thought he was doing in preparing this assessment for the white house. >> rose: so what's going on here?
simply because he said he may need more troops and enthusiasm for that war has led them to say well, if it's a question of more perhaps troops, perhaps we ought to go a different direction? >> well, i think a lot of things have changed since march, and even since june/july when general mcchrystal was sent out to afghanistan to replace general david mckiernan. the chief thing that's changed, charlie, was the afghan elections which were held on august 20. and those elections by many accounts were just a total disaster. they were riddled with fraud. the "new york times" reporting this morning that perhaps as many as one in four ballots now has to be reexamined because they might have been fraudulently cast. what this means is that the incumbent-- president hamid karzai-- who is ahead in the... at least the preliminary count, and by all accounts likely will continue on as president, will be... will continue on as president under a huge cloud of
illegitimacy and scandal. and to people in the white house and to people in the state department, they look at this and say "how can we mount a credible counterinsurgency campaign if our partner there, if the president of afghanistan is somebody who is viewed as being illegitimately reelected." the biggest part of counterinsurgency is building up an effective state, building an effective governance and fighting corruption. how do you do that with somebody who was elected through corruption in the eyes of many people? and add to that here in washington, leading democrats have voiced increasing skepticism about sending more troops. public opinion polling is showing a softening in american support for the war effort. some of our european allies are becoming increasingly squeamish about continuing their troop commitment. so when you take all of this together from the perch in the white house, it certainly looks like things have fundamentally changed and maybe this is the moment, they say, for us to
really fundamentally look hard at what our approach is there and maybe reexamine that in a big way. >> rose: the "new yorker" magazine has an article, lead article that called "point man on afghanistan." richard holbrooke began his clear from vietnam. can he now help the united states avoid the mistakes of the war in afghanistan. by george packer. where is ambassador or special representative holbrook on this? >> that's a good question and that was just an excellent piece by george packer. you know, ambassador holbrook has been at the forefront of crafting a strategy to get more american civilians out to afghanistan to help with reconstruction, with development and with governance, which is a key part of this overall counterinsurgency strategy. in many ways, ambassador holbrook has been doing half of this work and general mcchrystal has been doing the other half,
which has been focusing on the other side of things. this has to be jarring for him as well as general mcchrystal because certainly they've been both operating under the assumption that what the white house had wanted was this sword of broader intensiver at trying to rebuild the afghan state so it could essentially take responsibility for security activities and the reasoning behind all of this is that a more stable afghan state with a more effective government, with more credible and effective security forces would naturally deny the taliban and their al qaeda allies an environment in which to operate there. >> rose: there any... i mean, is there any reason to believe that the white house is less enthusiastic about general mcchrystal? >> i don't think there's any reason to believe that. i think that... i think that they're just looking at a whole lot of different data points and
saying, well, you know, perhaps for the commander in kabul this seems to be a bit more straightforward but when we look at it from all of these other perspectives, it's far more complicated. but, you know, when you also look at the other approaches that the white house may be considering, some of them, quite frankly, are right up general mcchrystal's alley. i mean, he wasn't a counterinsurgency guy by training, he was actually a counterterrorism guy. he had led the specials tos. and so some of what the white house may want to do may well play to general mcchrystal's strengths. >> rose: yeah, but i mean he fully had bought into the idea that you have to be very, very careful about what you're doing in afghanistan with respect to the population. and you've got to be friendly with the population and you each got to use them... you have to build... he was a kind of nation building... he became a nation building kind of military leader in terms of his public
statements. >> oh, very much so. and in a very profound way here. i mean, more so than perhaps any other top american commander in recent memory. i mean, he's done things like say "you can't drop bombs on housing compounds unless you're sure there are no civilians in there." for troops simply to believe there's some bad guys in there is not sufficient to drop bombs. he's given guidance to these commanders saying "you've got to drive more politely on the roads. the barreling down the streets in your big humvees alienate it is population. drive like the afghans do." he's taken this sort of counterinsurgency theory to heart and to practice and is really trying to fundamentally change the culture of the way the military operates. in fact, in this assessment there's a lot of that there. he's trying to make a very significant change in the way everybody fights in afghanistan. >> rose: i mean, it seems to me
in reading this that general mcchrystal-- and i'm sdhg as a question-- general mcchrystal is very critical of the afghan government. general mcchrystal understands the corruption problems, general mcchrystal understands the role of tribal in afghanistan. i mean, it's not like he has introduced them to new ideas other than what he was asked to do, which is "tell me how many americans... give me your evaluation of what's necessary to do the job we charge you with doing." >> indeed. and he's laid it out in a very sober, clear-headed way. and, in fact, in some ways a very grim way. some might suggest that maybe general mcchrystal's done too good of a job here of trying to argue for more forces and may well have scared some people into thinking, well, mcchrystal's from-the-heart fall for me resources and his... the urgency that he lays out here may well be interpret bid some as, well, maybe this can't be done. but mcchrystal's clear in his
assessment that he believes if he has the resources success is achievable. but maybe other people view it differently. >> rose: but he's got a year to do it, otherwise it will be too late. if he doesn't have the resources, a year from now it's going to be too late. >> that's the most significant part of this, charlie, the fact that the commanding general is saying "if we don't turn this thing around in a year, we're never going to be able to do it." >> rose: also there is, underlining all of this, is that this is obama's war. >> yes. >> rose: this is not iraq where he's ending a war that was clearly a war of choice by the president. previous president. >> this is the political context to all of this and the political potential risk facing the president. remember, when he campaigned, afghanistan was the good war. iraq was the bad war. iraq was the war of... pardon me afghanistan was the war of necessity and iraq was the war of choice. and so even on the campaign
trail he said afghanistan needed more troops, afghanistan needed more resources. when he took office, within a month, in february of this this year, he dispatched 21,000 additional military personnel to afghanistan. now he faces this position. if he were to then sort of pull back and say "look, i don't think continuing on this way makes sense," he opens himself up to a lot of criticism from the right that he's essentially flip-flopd from what he was saying during the campaign. >> rose: i come back to this, too. general mcchrystal was given the responsibility by the president to go over there and give him his assessment and he told the general "i'll give you all the resources you need" i.e. in terms of the smartest people in the government to do this. and then he today him... general mcchrystal said i'm going to reach out and get a whole bunch of people from academia and counterinsurgency strategies to come in here and help me make my assessment. not just within the military but
a lot of other people. they do that and they give it to the president and what i don't understand is what questions is the president now asking? what does he need to know before he has a strategy? >> the that's a really good question, charlie. and obviously president hasn't articulated what his new and additional questions are. one thing we do know is that during this assessment process, general mcchrystal was summoned to nato air base in belgium for a secret meeting with defense secretary robert gates and mike mullen, the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff and general petraeus. and the among the things general mcchrystal was dodd do is to do more analysis on what the impact of the afghan elections would be on all of this. now, this was done before the elections and before the reports of fraud. i can imagine that there's some people in the white house who look at the assessment and say there are only a couple of pages in there about the afghan government, about the elections, and maybe we need ask some
additional harder questions about how politics in afghanistan fundamentally affects the counterinsurgency campaign that general mcchrystal envisions and has drawn up in this assessment. >> rose: are we going over there fighting for a cuplt government? is that what the idea is? is that the fear? >> yes. the fear is how do you promote good governance? how do you fix these problems at a local level because in afghanistan most solutions are local. but how do you do that when the national government is perceived as so ineffective and so corrupt? and, yes, do you send american men and women to die in the sfz of a government that is seen broadly by many afghans as corrupt? >> rose: what does history tell us there? >> well, you know, when you look back at historical parallels, you see... i mean, even look back at vietnam, right? it's much harder to sort of win over the support of local people when they perceive their own
government to be fundamentally ineffective and corrupt. but it's also worth noting that there's a key difference, there, ough, between vietnam and afghanistan, charlie, and that's that there's no romanticized notions among the afghan people for what it would be like to live under the taliban like there might have been... like there certainly were in south vietnam when it came to the communists. the afghan people have lived under a repressive taliban regime for some years and they've resoundingly rejected that. the fact that they are acquiescing to the taliban, in some cases turning to the taliban is a statement of just how bad an ineffective the current government is and how people don't have employment opportunitys so many many cases they take ten bucks a die fight for the taliban. or they turn the taliban to adjudicate their disputes because the police demand bribes before they'll investigate a crime. so in some ways, the actual challenge of fixing the government, we don't have to
create an ideal government there in the minds of many people, it's simply to create an administration that's better than the taliban's. and i should add that when i go and travel through afghanistan-- which i've now done three times this year and talked to people at a local level-- i am surprised by the degree of public support out there for international forces for even legitimate afghan military forces to come and protect the people. they just feel like nobody's protecting them. so in the absence of any authority, they're turning to the taliban because they have no choice. and they're filled with fear. >> rose: listen to this. "national security advisor jim jones, general jim jones said sunday that mcchrystal's assessment will "be analyzed as to whether it is in sync with the strategy that the president announced in march. as if the president had a strategy in march and now they're deciding whether this assessment by mcchrystal is in sync with the strategy.
>> and what mcchrystal's people would sty that is, well, the first bullet point in the president's white paper that was released in march calls for an integrated civilian/military counterinsurgency campaign. and what mcchrystal was doing was following that guidance. now, admittedly, there's agreement that the goal is narrow. the goal is to deny al qaeda from coming back. but the strategy that was articulated by the white house after an interagency strategy review earlier this year was to have a comprehensive counterinsurgency effort. now that, of course, as we hear from the president, from national security advisor jones and others is being subject to a new round of examination and questioning. >> rose: the president has been involved in health care reform and it's crucial to how he believe... what he believes he has to do, which is the right
thing to do, is to change health care and he knows that part of his own administration is on the line there. i'm surprised this that there's been only two meetings about assessing the strategy recommended by general mcchrystal according to you, right? >> in fact, one meeting at least as recently as this weekend. so there's an a lot of consternation here on the part of the military saying, you know you've had this assessment now for many days, why aren't there more meetings on this? why aren't you guys focusing in on bearing down on this. we're fighting a war out there and we need washington to be able to multitask. now, admittedly health care is the top priority. the administration wants a bill out of congress soon. but there is frustration, palpable frustration on the part of the military. both at the pentagon and out in the field in afghanistan. >> rose: where is secretary gates on all this?
>> that's a good question. i think secretary gates is somewhere in between. you know, gates for a while had been skeptical of increasing troops in afghanistan, noting that the soviets had something around 120,000 or so troops when they were there and obviously we all know how that ended. now, of course, the soviet approach was very, very different than what nato is trying to do. but when you add in the u.s. and the international troop component in afghanistan, you know, you're up somewhere near that figure. not quite there, but pretty high. and so gates has wondered whether you really need more. now, since mcchrystal's assessment has landed in washington, gates has indicated or suggested that he might be open to supporting something of an increase but hasn't explicitly come out and endorsed that. but what we also snow that gates
will be a particularly influential voice in these discussions. and i think will be actively helping to shape the president's thinking on this going forward. >> rose: and we also know that the secretary has always made clear his understanding of history in afghanistan and the perils of thinking you can do more than you can because of the unique nature of that country. >> indeed. and it is a country where you don't have a history of a strong central government. you don't have a professional civil service. you don't have a strong military. you don't do have strong tribal rivalries and divisions and ethnic divisions and a country with a harsh geography and limited natural resources. you have everything essentially going against you in the world of nation building. this is... even with additional resources, this is not going to be an easy, straightforward task. and success won't be guaranteed
here. but those who support nation building, who support a comprehensive counterinsurgency approach, would argue that it really hasn't been tried by anybody. nobody's actually tried to get this right yet, tried to protect the population. tried to work from key population centers and work out, focus on building a professional and effective local security force and trying to deliver services to the people. and they say, look, this hasn't been done. and i note and they argue that what has been done has been a narrower counterterrorism approach. they say "that's what the bush administration largely did for the first few years of the war." since september 11, 2001, or at least in the months after that. they say, look, that really didn't work. and so do you really want to go back to that approach? >>. >> rose: do you mention the secretary of state in your piece? >> i don't. >> rose: what does that say?
>> well, what it says is that the real sort of person of influence on afghanistan/pakistan policy at the department of state is ambassador holbrooke. he's the person who's really doing most of the key work. obviously he's doinging it in concert with the secretary. she's briefed on all of this stuff. she participates in the interagency discussions at a high level here. but the real point man here is holbrooke. >> rose: this is almost in contradiction of what the president said yesterday because... talking about he had to have a strategy before he made a commitment and then... this is from your piece. when president barack obama announced his strategy in march there were few specifics flesh out his broad goals and the military was left to interpret how to implement them as they struggle over how the adjust to change regular alty on the ground, some in the administration have begun to fault mcchrystal taking the policy beyond where obama intended with no easy exit but obama's deliberate pace, he's hold only one top meeting of his national security advisors to
discuss mcchrystal's so far, is a source of growing consternation within the military. either accept the assessment or correct it or let's have ace a discussion, one pentagon official said. will you read it and tell us what you think. within the military this official said there's frustration, a significant frustration, a serious frustration. so when will that frustration be addressed? >> well, i think that's what's going to be taking place over these next couple of weeks and i think we could expect some contentious closed door meetings where you will have civilians-- some perhaps from the state department, some from the white house, national security council maybe even some civilians at the pentagon-- arguing that the approach needs to be narrower. and you'll have the military saying, well, the approach that you articulated was this broader approach. and perhaps a fundamental dispute over just what was meant back in march.
but i think you're starting to see from the comment that was in our story this morning, from some of the other things that are percolating out there, this sort of growing split between some of the civilian leaders and military leaders over just what was the strategy, what is the strategy, and what should be the strategy going forward. >> rose: and there's always this. i mean, the lessons we have learned, articulated by caspar weinberger and colin powell and others is that do you want to engage american men and women in a cause if the american public is not supporting it, a, and, b, you do not have any support from other countries, any kind of multilateralism. all of those seem to be now factored into the president's decision. >> indeed. and, you know, let's take those one at a time. i mean, it is true that american public support for this war effort is slipping.
now, people on the other side of that argument would say, well they would argue that the white house needs to do more to sell this to the public, to convince people that this is worth fighting, to tie it back to 9/11 and such. the administration does face a very real and growing problem with regard to nato's support, international communities' support for this. the dutch have announced that they will be sort of pulling out of one of the provinces in the south of afghanistan next year. the canadians plan to discontinue their lead nation status in kandahar, the major city in the south the following year in the wake of the deaths of six italian soldiers last week there are new calls for italy to bring its forces home. italy has been responsible for a large part of the northwest of afghanistan. in germany-- which will be
having elections soon-- the question of a continued commitment in afghanistan is a big issue in that campaign. so there's a genuine issue here with regard to nato's continued commitment going forward there. and as violence metastasizes into other parts of afghanistan, recently seeing an increase in taliban activity in the north, for instance, and those are places where there are few u.s. troops but principally troops from our european allies, the very real question comes to the table "how do you deal with that if the europeans want to reduce numbers and the taliban see a soft underbelly and are pushing into these other parts of the country? ". >> rose: conclusion seems to me-- and tell me if this is right-- one, it's urgent. mcchrystal has certainly pointed out the urgency of decide not guilty to and doing something now. and secondly it seems to me to be that there has to be a
reassessment because of the election and other things. they need to have an urgent decision and there ought to be, as part of that process, a real national debate. >> well, i think that's what's going to happen. now, the question is the degree to which that debate will be a national debate that will involve members of congress, that will be sort of surfaced in public, or the degree to this which that debate actually takes place behind closed doors. and the bush administration had an approach for dealing with congress which was to set its own policy and pretty much to ignore congress and to sort of get congress to agree to fund it or threaten them to be in the position of cutting off funding. it will be interesting to see with a democratic president and a democratic majority in congress whether he will seek to impose his will on congress that way and whether they'll try to bring general mcchrystal to capitol hill to try to sell the strategy if nay decide to move
forward with further resourcing counterinsurgency frat ji like general mcchrystal calls for or whether they will seek to interact with capitol hill in a fundamently different way. >> rose: the discussion continues, rajiv. thank you so much. >> a pleasure to talk to you continue, charlie. >> rose: we'll be right back. stay with us. >> rose: haleh esfandiari is here. she is an iranian author, she is the founding director of the woodrow wilson center's middle east program. in 2007, she was detained after a visit to her native country to see her aging 93-year-old mother. she was accused of taking part in an american conspiracy for regime change. she spent more than 100 days in solitary confinement and was interrogated for hours. she was finally released in september, 2007. she writes about her experiences in a new book, it is called "my prison, my home."
i am very, very pleased to have her here for the first time. although her husband has been here many times. welcome. >> thank you. thank you, charlie. >> rose: in fact, we talked with him at the time in your opinion prison. >> yes. >> rose: just... tell me the story. is it fair to your mother to make sure i gave the age she was so she can appreciate the sense... >> sure, sure. i had... i went to visit my mother and spent christmas with her because she was... she was an austrian and lived in iran, so she celebrated christmas. and i spent the week with her and on the 30th of december, 2006, i said good-bye to her, telling her "i'll be back for the persian new year in march." and headed to the airport. halfway on the route to the airport, i was... the car was stopped and we were pushed to the side and four knife-wielding
men jumped out of the car. >> rose: knife-wielding? >> yes, they were having knives attached to their waist and, you know, they were quite large knives. and one of them came and sat next to me and the other one told the driver to open the trunk, he took my suitcase, one took... the third one took my carry-on bag, which was on the front seat next to the driver, and the guy who sat next to me started going through my purse. and i'd really thought because they were carrying knives, i thought it was a robbery. you know? it happens in every big city. so i said "please, take everything you want, just give me my two passports and my ticket because i'm traveling." and all i remember from his face was... you know, he was wearing glasses and there was a sinister grin on his face and then he took the purse and they told me to go under the seat.
and they really used profanities that i have never in my entire life... i grew up in iran, never heard. and they went and i went back home and the next day i started going and applying for a new passport and very soon i found out that this was not a robbery, this was the work of the intelligence ministry. >> rose: and how did you find that out? >> i was told to go and meet with the passport officer, which i thought was routine. you know, i don't live iran so they want to ask certain questions. but when the questions started becoming personal, i started worrying. because, for example, he asked "you are married to a jew." and i said "yes." "how much do you earn? what is your salary?" you know? "give us the name of your
grandchildren." they were six and four at the time. and so... and "talk to us about the nature of your work at the wilson center" so we spent a couple of hours and i answered all these questions but i wasn't feeling comfortable, you know? already i sensed that this is not your usual question-and-answers if you lose a passport. i went home and that afternoon i got a phone call from this guy who introduced himself as mr. jafari. occasionally he would say "i'm your interrogator" occasionally he would say "i'm an expert." so he called and said "could you please come to such and such an address." and the moment he gave me address, i knew that this is one of the headquarters of the intelligence ministry. >> rose: so you went there? >> i went there the next day. >> rose: and that was a series of interrogations.
>> that was the beginning of eight months country arrest, of which i spent so 5 days in prison. >> rose: in solitary confinement or... >> 105 days in solitary confinement. >> rose: and you were sent to the worst prison there was. >> yes. yes. >> rose: and when you were sent there were you fearful of their intent? >> sure. first of all, everyday when i went for interrogation, i wasn't sure whether they would let me go. i was afraid the whole eight months, you know? secondly, when they took know prison, i mean, i had read a lot about prison, you know? i'm a student of iran so i know what's happening in these places both before and post-revolution. so i was worried. i thought they'd kill me. >> rose: just disappear. >> just disappear. >> rose: and some people have gone to prison and the aftermath of the protest against the election have died in prison. >> rose: yes.
>> and they've died in n prison and some have disappeared, some have been found wandering about the outside tehran in... not inhabited places. so, yes. i was very worried, you know? >> rose: so what do you think it was about? >> the intelligence ministry believed or had convinced the people who worked there, had convinced themselves and had convinced the office of the president also that the united states is not going to attack iran because it's bogged down in iraq and in afghanistan. it's not going attack militarily iran and i won't do even a surgical strike. but since they have been enemies for the last 30 years, it will try and overthrow the regime through soft means. >> rose: regime change? >> yes. through soft means. and the soft revolution meant,
you know, funding n.g.o.s, inviting people to come to the united states to take part in conferences, exchange of academics, giving fellowships, arranging work shopps for women and etc., etc. and that was really their concern. >> rose: we should underline this point. they actually believe that. in other words, you had no doubt that they weren't trying to harass you, they actually believe you were part of some effort. >> i wish they thought i was part of. i thought i am the mastermind! >> rose: oh, they thought you were in charge of it? >> yes. >> rose: because of your roll in woodrow wilson? >> yes and because i was abiranian american and because i was a 67-year-old grandmother and i would not raise suspicion. >> rose: visiting your 93-year-old... >> visiting my 93-year-old mother. yeah. i mean, they really were convinced that there is such a plot.
>> rose: so why are they so convinced? because they know so little about the united states? because there are certain things that would... they have seen that would indicate that to them? what? >> first of all, they know very little on american research centers, american think tanks, even american universities function. just because. the president of the wilson center, lee hamilton, used to be for 13 years a member of congress.... >> rose: and chair of the house foreign affairs committee. >> they thought there is a link between the wilson center and the united states government, you know? so they had convinced themselves about that. and don't forget, charlie, i was detained under the bush administration. >> rose: right. >> and there had been a lot of loose talk going on around washington about regime change and also congress had allocated $75 million to promote democracy in iran. so they were very suspicious of
all these things. >> rose: i mean, there's always this debate about iran policy, or assumption of a debate which was do you change the regime or do you change... >> behavior. >> rose:... the behavior. >> i don't think they wanted either. they neither wanted regime change in iran nor did they welcome behavior change, you know? and i think had washington not allocated that money and had washington engaged iran, this would have not happened to me and today we wouldn't have seen other iranian americans and americans sitting in jail. i really think there was this misunderstanding and lack of exchange between the two countries, the two governments. >> rose: i want to come to how you got out. so finally what happened to you and then we'll talk more about u.s./iranian policy. >> one afternoon they came and
told me that there has been an exchange of letters between mr. hamilton-- who is the president of the wilson center-- and ayatollah combny. >> rose: lee wrote him or sent a message to him? >> mr. am ill on the wrote to him and ayatollah khamenei had written back to him and this was the first time the leader of the office had written to a very high level american official and that he should go to new york and pick up that letter and and i said "do what do you want know do from jail? i'm sitting in prison. i mean, i haven't talked to my husband in three months. i've seen my mother once." and they said "call your mother and tell her to tell your husband to tell the wilson center that he should go and pick up the letter. so my husband went, picked up the letter, replyed to that letter and three weeks later one afternoon i was called for what
i thought was interrogation. we went to my interrogation and i was told i can go home. and for a brief moment i thought this is a cruel joke. because they were very good at making these kind of cruel jokes you know? and they said "no, you can go." and then i went back to the ward and to my cell and i said "i can go home." >> rose: tom freedman wrote at the time-- and i know you read this and it's often quoted-- this is what he said on may 20, 2007. "this iranian regime is afraid of its shadow. how do i know? it recently arrested a 67-year-old grandmother whom it accused of trying to bring down the regime by organizing academic conferences. yes, big, tough, president mahmoud ahmadinejad, the man who shows us how tough he is by declaring the holocaust a myth, had his goons arrest haleh esfandiari, a 67-year-old scholar, grandmother, and dual iranian/u.s. citizen while she
was visiting her 93-year-old mother in tehran. do you know how paranoid you have to be to think that a 67-year-old grandmother visiting her 93-year-old mother can bring down your regime? now that is insecure." do you agree with that? >> sure. i truly... i agree that... at a time and i think now, too, they are insecure, they are paranoid, they feel they are surrounded by the united states. the united states has a presence in the persian gulf, in central asia, in iraq, in afghanistan. and they really are paranoid. and they just want to get rid of any possibility of a regime change. you know, through a velvet revolution and through soft means. >> rose: the velvet revolution is what they fear. >> yes. that's it. they have studied very carefully what had happened in georgia and the ukraine, the rose revolution and the orange revolution. and they really had studied it. so they tried to fit in what we
were doing and other think tanks were doing in the united states in that puzzle they had set for themselves on the table and they were looking at it. and they were constantly telling me there are pieces missing in that puzzle, tell us what it is. and i said "what do you want know tell you? i don't know at all what you are talking about." and they were also very suspicious of the foundations, american foundations, you know. the ford foundation. >> rose: do they know the difference in terms of the political spectrum in america? so if something, say, is being very harsh about iran is written by someone of a certain political persuasion, they recognize that and so therefore know that is not anywhere near what government policy is? do they have that sophistication about what they read? >> no. and i give you an example, because i told them that mr. hamilton and jim baker in the iraq report talked about
engaging iran. and the answer was "no, this is a ploy to undermine us." so where do you start? you know, for eight months i talked to these people and i don't think i made that much of a difference. >> rose: who's behind the hardest line in iran? where does it come from? >> there are two groups in the intelligence ministry, the more moderate and the more extreme. so it's a combination of the extreme groups in the intelligence ministry plus the revolutionary guard. for the first time you see the revolutionary guard being involved in political discussions and political affairs in iran because, according to the constitution, they are not supposed to do that. so you have the revolutionary guard. these are the ones who came out into the streets along with the paramilitary who beat up and arrested and killed people.
>> rose: so where is ahmadinejad in all of this? >> ahmadinejad must support these people because they made sure he was.... >> rose: okay, but is he their tool or are they his tool? >> i think everybody is mr. homeini's tool. because the ultimate decision maker is mr. hoe menne. and so far he has supported the president and so far he has supported the revolutionary guard. so i think they all work hand in hand for the time being but i personally believe that the genie's out of the bottle. the revolutionary guard is going at some stage if they fine it necessary will turn against their own people. >> rose: their own people... >> meaning the government and, if necessary, some of the clerics. >> rose: even ahmadinejad? >> not necessarily him. because he....
>> rose: i've been told ahmadinejad fears anti-government forces not from the reform element might challenge him. that there's... i mean, that serve wary of everybody else today in iran. >> oh, that is sure. >> rose: no one knows quite sure where everybody else and s and who they can depend on. >> yeah. that's bad. because if you can't depend on certain forces... but so far ahmadinejad has been very good to the revolutionary guards. both in his first term and now ever since he was reelected. he has been giving them a lot of room for maneuver. so i think he makes sure that he has the support of them. >> rose: are you hopeful in any way about the future of iran? >> sure. i've been hopeful for the future of iran ever since i was born, really, hoping that iran will be a progressive, democratic country. it might take some time but, yes i am hopeful. >> rose: why?
>> because i feel that my compatriots, the iranians, are resourceful people. they are not intimidated, they are very patient and they believe in a democratic regime and they want that. and eventually they.... >> rose: is that the vast majority of the citizenry or... >> the vast majority of the citizenry. iran is an educated... the iranians are well-educated people. >> rose: and deeply cultural, too. >> and there is, yes, the culture. and don'ttor get we have this younger generation who is wired to the rest of the world. you know? they have... they watch through the internet what's going on in the world. they send s.m.s.s, they twitter, so they do everything. they are wired to the world and they know exactly what's happening in the rest of the world and they want that for them. >> rose: let's assume take someone like mr. mousavi. would he be a friend to the united states? how would he be different from
ahmadinejad beyond rhetoric? >> i think he would be more forthcoming to discussing issues with the united states. because as i told you earlier, the ultimate decision maker is the leader. so even if he wanted to go and embrace the united states, he could don't it and he wouldn't do it. you remember mr. qahtani. he tried to reach out to the united states. >> rose: right after the invasion of iraq. >> yes. and even when he became president he reached out to the united states. he gave.... >> rose: and what happened? is e clinton administration did not get back to him at least with some substantial thing and then later on the leader put a stop to that and mr. khamenei gave an
interview and said eventually "it's i who decide when is the right time to talk to the united states." >> rose: and he hasn't decided yet. >> we don't know yet, no. >> rose: the fact is that he hasn't said it, we assume he hasn't decided. >> exactly. >> rose: there is also this. a number of reports have come forward in the u.s. press, in newspapers that cover iran and america and the state department and foreign policy and they're saying there's an effort at engagement. that there have been some communication taking place with this government as to how they might proceed to discuss the serious issues that they divide on. is that true? as far as you know? >> well, it's hard to know, but we know that president obama is very much for engagement and he has written we know at least one letter, maybe two letters to ayatollah khamenei. >> rose: is this before the
election or after the election? >> i think one was before and one we don't know when. the first one was before. and they didn't get involved in the election, you know. when the elections were going on. and afterward i think their condemnation of the atrocities was very just, to the point. >> rose: and not overdone in order to... >> not overdone. >> rose: i think most people believe that the iranians want nuclear weapons. do you believe they want nuclear weapons or they want nuclear power which they might later use to develop nuclear weapons if they want to? >> you know, i'm not an expert on nuclear issues. but i know that at this stage they will probably want nuclear power with the possibility of turning it if necessary into a nuclear weapon. but at this stage i think if you
rely on what the "eyeopener" says and what the american... yay yay says, they really want access to nuclear power. >> rose: so what finally should be the american policy towards iran? >> talk to then and find out what's happening. >> rose: that's not a policy. talk to them is not a policy. >> oh, sure, engage them. why not? engage them. >> rose: but should we offer them something? should we say to them "we're not going to turn to sanctions"? should we say to them... we're coming in without pre-conditions is what they're saying. yfrjts. >> yes. and but they also know if they don't come to an agreement over the nuclear issue there is going to be a third round of sanctions. but the problem that the united states has is that russia and china may not be on board. and that's why the europeans are saying that well, we can do it without them, without the u.n. security council, the europeans and the united states together will impose this sanction. >> rose: they can do it without the u.n. so therefore the
iranians are scared that it might happen? >> but i think the united states should also talk about the human rights violation in iran. that's very important. i mean, if you just sweep that away and say for the time being we are not going to talk about the violations of human rights, that is really approving of what's happening. >> rose: when reporters-- and this is in the last several weeks-- after the election and after the protest in the streets and after all this happened, when reporters say that there is some engagement taking place or efforts at engagement, you know, which is a... how does that work? who talks to whom? >> there are always go-betweens that are tied to diplomacy. they meet somewhere in europe, a group of iranians who are not... who are close to the iranian president and the group of americans who probably find an ear in the white house and in state department meet together. and this has been going on for
god knows, the last two decades, you know? >> rose: so people who say there have been no contact don't know what they're saying. >> they know what's going on, sure. >> rose: thank you for coming. it's a pleasure to see you. "my prison, my home." thank you again. >> thank you very much. >> rose: thank you for joining us. see you next time captioning sponsored by rose communications captioned by media access group at wgbh access.wgbh.org